Mercury at Maximum Elongation

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Heavily cratered Mercury

If you have flat and unobstructed views towards the south west there’s a chance of observing one of the most elusive planets this evening – Mercury.

Mercury is hard to see because it orbits so close to the sun, meaning it’s usually lost in the glare of our parent star.

However the planet is currently at its maximum eastern elongation from the Sun, so there’s a small window of opportunity to spot Mercury just after sunset low in the south west. Grab a pair of binoculars and see if you get lucky.

For us high northern latitude observers it’s a tough ask due to the currently flat orientation of the ecliptic, but even if you don’t see Mercury you should catch Saturn sitting just a little higher on the horizon.

Mercury goes through several peak elongations from east to west during a year, providing alternating opportunities to see the planet in pre-dawn or evening skies

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Maximum eastern elongation

Despite being closest to the sun, Mercury isn’t the planet with the highest temperatures – that prize goes to Venus with its thick carbon dioxide cloud base.  This is because Mercury has no atmosphere to trap or distribute heat.  If you were able to stand on Mercury, your daytime temperatures would be a blistering 427C.  However, if you hid in the shadow of a large crater or travelled into the dark half of Mercury, temperatures would plummet to a freezing -173C!  Again, due to a lack of atmosphere to smooth out the temperature extremes.

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